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Coming Home
by [?]

There are thousands and thousands of just such cases; and men bearing them, and cracking jokes, and hitting out as hard as they can. Jean de Rechamp knew this, and tried to crack jokes too–but he got his leg smashed just afterward, and ever since he’d been lying on a straw pallet under a horse-blanket, saying to himself: “Rechamp retaken.”

“Of course,” he explained with a weary smile, “as long as you can tot up your daily bag in the trenches it’s a sort of satisfaction–though I don’t quite know why; anyhow, you’re so dead-beat at night that no dreams come. But lying here staring at the ceiling one goes through the whole business once an hour, at the least: the attack, the slaughter, the ruins…and worse…. Haven’t I seen and heard things enough on this side to know what’s been happening on the other? Don’t try to sugar the dose. I like it bitter.”

I was three days in the neighbourhood, and I went back every day to see him. He liked to talk to me because he had a faint hope of my getting news of his family when I returned to Paris. I hadn’t much myself, but there was no use telling him so. Besides, things change from day to day, and when we parted I promised to get word to him as soon as I could find out anything. We both knew, of course, that that would not be till Rechamp was taken a third time–by his own troops; and perhaps soon after that, I should be able to get there, or near there, and make enquiries myself. To make sure that I should forget nothing, he drew the family photographs from under his pillow, and handed them over: the little witch-grandmother, with a face like a withered walnut, the father, a fine broken-looking old boy with a Roman nose and a weak chin, the mother, in crape, simple, serious and provincial, the little sister ditto, and Alain, the young brother–just the age the brutes have been carrying off to German prisons–an over-grown thread-paper boy with too much forehead and eyes, and not a muscle in his body. A charming-looking family, distinguished and amiable; but all, except the grandmother, rather usual. The kind of people who come in sets.

As I pocketed the photographs I noticed that another lay face down by his pillow. “Is that for me too?” I asked.

He coloured and shook his head, and I felt I had blundered. But after a moment he turned the photograph over and held it out.

“It’s the young girl I am engaged to. She was at Rechamp visiting my parents when war was declared; but she was to leave the day after I did….” He hesitated. “There may have been some difficulty about her going…. I should like to be sure she got away…. Her name is Yvonne Malo.”

He did not offer me the photograph, and I did not need it. That girl had a face of her own! Dark and keen and splendid: a type so different from the others that I found myself staring. If he had not said “ma fiancee” I should have understood better. After another pause he went on: “I will give you her address in Paris. She has no family: she lives alone–she is a musician. Perhaps you may find her there.” His colour deepened again as he added: “But I know nothing–I have had no news of her either.”

To ease the silence that followed I suggested: “But if she has no family, wouldn’t she have been likely to stay with your people, and wouldn’t that be the reason of your not hearing from her?”

“Oh, no–I don’t think she stayed.” He seemed about to add: “If she could help it,” but shut his lips and slid the picture out of sight.

As soon as I got back to Paris I made enquiries, but without result. The Germans had been pushed back from that particular spot after a fortnight’s intermittent occupation; but their lines were close by, across the valley, and Rechamp was still in a net of trenches. No one could get to it, and apparently no news could come from it. For the moment, at any rate, I found it impossible to get in touch with the place.